Data for Good: The Tech Community’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • JORDAN CRENSHAW

The coronavirus, now having infected over 350,000 people globally, has impacted nearly everyonenaround the world – either directly, through social distancing, or economically. Most people are being asked to isolate themselves from their workplaces, schools, and local businesses, creating major disruptions in the day-to-day lives of Americans – an impact that is felt across all industry sectors.

During this time, technology companies are stepping up and leveraging their data, computing power, and other resources to combat the coronavirus and support Americans who find themselves teleworking or without a steady income. Many in the tech community are already using big data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help mitigate the impacts of the virus. Here are some ways businesses are doing just that:

Adding tools to the toolbox

On March 16, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a dataset containing “the most extensive machine-readable coronavirus literature collection available for data and text mining to date, with over 29,000 articles…” These scholarly works are being called “CORD-19,” and can now be used by AI companies to help answer looming questions and help solve problems related to COVID-19. A number of leading scientific research and technology institutions are collaborating and putting their computers to work for the greater good. This effort will enable researches to more efficiently sort through the growing field of data accumulated on the pandemic.

  • RELX is opening their Exsevier database with research and health information to the public. This includes peer-reviewed research and journals for researchers, care plans and skills guides for clinicians, and video resources for patients.
  • Salesforce announced to its customers on Monday that it would offer free services to emergency response teams through its Health Cloud program. Tableau, owned by Salesforce, is also offering a ‘free data resource hub’ to help organizations understand coronavirus data quickly, using data from Johns Hopkins University as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Splunk, which has previously worked to use data to combat previous epidemics, the opioid crisis and alleviate family displacement caused by natural disasters and refugee emergencies, has created a dashboard that enables others to add their own data about the coronavirus pandemic.
  • IBM’s supercomputer, the fastest of its kind in the world, is being used by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy to identify drug compounds to disable the coronavirus.
Paying it forward

While many are unsure about the extent and duration of the new policies around social distancing and, in some extreme cases even sheltering in place, a couple of Bay Area companies are doing what they can to ease the strain on employees.

  • Facebook announced it would extend a $1,000 bonus to its 45,000+ employees in the near term to provide them extra financial assistance.
  • Similarly, Workday said it would give employees (under the vice-president level) a cash bonus equal to two weeks of pay to its employees to “alleviate pressures from school closures and other changes.” Workday currently employs just over 12,000 people total.
  • Microsoft said the company will pay hourly workers even if conditions prevent them from physically going into the office.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
  • Amazon announced Monday that it would hire an additional 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers to meet the urgent, and growing, demand to fill orders in their supply centers. In addition, they are pledging to increase the pay for hourly workers through April.
  • Instacart announced plans to bring on an additional 300,000 full-service shoppers – more than doubling its shopper community – across North America over the next 3 months to meet the increasing customer demand for online grocery delivery and pickup in the U.S. and Canada.
Fighting the pandemic

Many companies and other organizations are contributing cash to help fight the pandemic, be it through donations or distributing supplies to help ward off the virus.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would set aside $20 million to match donations made to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which was launched through a partnership of the UN Foundation, the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, the CDC Foundation, and the World Health Organization.
  • Apple announced it would match employee donations two-to-one to ease response efforts globally.
  • Postmates is covering the cost of co-pays and medical treatment for expenses related to COVID-19 and will offer up to two weeks paid sick leave for those who are diagnosed.
Meeting the demand

With most businesses moving to remote working environments due to the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, companies are stepping up to meet demands. 

  • UberEats is waiving delivery fees for more than 100,000 independent restaurants across the U.S. and Canada. To protect customers and drivers, it is urging customers to use the “delivery notes” feature to have drivers leave orders at the doorstep to limit contact. Likewise, Postmates is offering reduced delivery fees, making on-demand delivery more accessible. 
  • In an effort to keep Americans connected, even if they can’t pay due to lost wages, telecom providers AT&TCenturyLinkCharterComcastT-Mobile and Verizon, among others, pledged to keep services open during this time. In addition, other offerings include extending open Wi-Fi hot spots as well as relaxing caps on data allotment.
  • To provide the highest level of security for employee devices, Blackberry is offering cybersecurity software solutions, including secure remote access for desktops and laptops, secure messaging and phone calls, and employee safety and advanced endpoint protection.

For resources on how businesses, workers and families can navigate the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak, visit our coronavirus prevention toolkit: https://www.uschamber.com/coronavirus-response-toolkit